Saturday, May 26, 2012

Gambia: ARTICLE 19 worried over appalling state of free expression

Gambian President Jammeh, has been accused by rights campaigners of muzzling press freedom
One of the world’s leading free expression and press freedom advocates, ARTICLE 19 has said the situation of freedom of expression in the Gambia is worrying, a country that host the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, ACHPR.

ARTICLE 19 has constantly denounced the appalling state of free expression and of the press in that tiny West African country before the African Commission and its stance during the (April 18-May 2, 2012) 51st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR was no different.

“Indeed, the curtailment of freedom of expression by physical and other forms of violence in the Gambia culminated in the brutal murder of journalist Deyda Hydara on 16 December 2004 and the disappearance without any trace of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh in July 2006,” the agency told the Commission.

In all these cases, ARTICLE 19 has always joined other human rights defenders to demand justice. It urge the Special Rapporteur on Free Expression in Africa to also drew attention to the case of former Minister of Information, Amadou Scattred Janneh, an opinion leader, who is languishing in prison accused of treason for simply having tee shirts printed with the words ''Coalition for Change in the Gambia - Stop the dictatorship''.
The agency, represented by its Dakar-based West Africa office, said these cases of violations of freedom of expression must be added to the systematic restriction of new media, especially the internet.

“Several information sites are jammed, thus depriving the Gambian population from accessing alternative sources of information,” it added. “Worse, is the fact that the legal framework governing freedom of expression and access to information often used to curtail expression is totally contrary to the international standards that are binding on the Gambia, particularly the Declaration of Principles.”

On April 17, ARTICLE 19 published a detailed legal analysis of the legal framework which criminalises any statements or speeches that are critical of the public authorities. 

“We have recommended to the Gambia to initiate serious reform of its laws by amending and repealing certain draconian provisions that prevent Gambians from freely expressing themselves and participating in national public debates,” ARTICLE 19 noted. 

It also lament that today, Gambian journalists and human rights defenders are still working in a state of fear, some have fled the country and the few that remain exercise their profession under surveillance by a system of justice under orders. 

Meanwhile, it welcome and support the announcement of the visit that the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa plans to undertake soon in the Gambia in order to further the dialogue that ARTICLE 19 and other institutions have been trying to initiate between the State and civil society actors on the question of freedom of expression and access to information.

“We ask for the release of prisoners of conscience in the Gambia and the protection of their physical and moral integrity,” the agency exhorts, before finally reiterating their determination to continue working closely and increasingly with the mechanism of the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

By Modou S. Joof

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